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Internationella studenter i Sverige: Avgiftsreformens påverkan på inflödet av studenter
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education. Forum för studier av den högre utbildningens internationalisering (SIHE). (Forskningsgruppen för utbildnings- och kultursociologi (SEC))ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7270-8636
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education. Forum för studier av den högre utbildningens internationalisering (SIHE). (Forskningsgruppen för utbildnings- och kultursociologi (SEC))ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3683-3146
2019 (Swedish)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the autumn of 2011, Sweden introduced tuition fees for third country free-mover students, i.e. students from outside the EEA and Switzerland who apply to Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs) independently, outside the framework of exchange programmes. This report interprets this as part of an ideological shift that has taken place within Swedish internationalisation policy. The emphasis in this policy has shifted over time, from a development aid perspective, through a discourse on diversity as a driver for enhanced quality, and later towards a competition centred perspective in line with international trends, where HEIs are viewed as educational goods producers who compete to attract international students on a global market.

This report describes the changes in the inflow of students that took place when tuition fees were introduced, which followed a period in which there had been a significant increase in the number of incoming students. It was already well documented that the number of newly arriving students pertaining to the group targeted by fees initially dropped by four fifths when fees were introduced. Instead, this report maps out how the composition of the group of incoming students changed with respect to fields of study as well as the students’ geographical origin and the economic, political and cultural character of their countries of origin. The changes are then analysed in relation to the goals and values that were emphasised in Swedish policy regarding the internationalisation of higher education, in particular those highlighted in the national strategy for internationalisation from 2005, and in the bill introducing tuition fees and new scholarships.

The report shows that the proportions of third country students with certain types of origin or fields of study changed in several ways, since the number of students in some groups dropped more so than in others. In the group targeted by fees, the number of students from wealthier, Christian and politically free countries dropped less than the average of the group as a whole. Simultaneously, the number of students from poorer and non-Christian countries dropped more than average. However, as the number of third country free-mover students gradually began to recover, the number of students in the most affected groups were among those that increased the fastest.

Furthermore, there was a shift in the relative proportions of free-mover and exchange students in the third country student population in Sweden. The exchange student group came to make up a larger part than before, as the number of free-mover students dropped. This, in turn, was linked to an altered geographical representation. After the fee introduction, Western students came to make up a larger share of the incoming third country students, while students from several countries in southern Asia, eastern Europe and parts of Africa came to make up a smaller proportion.

At the same time, changes in the inflow of students meant that sciences and technology lost more students than humanities and social sciences, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the incoming students. As the number of incoming students began to increase again during the years after the fee introduction, the number of students in sciences and technology began to recover.

Based on the political aims and values concerning diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, poverty reduction, democratic development, and domestic undersupply of labour in technology and research, the above-mentioned changes were problematic. The national strategy for internationalisation emphasised diversity of perspectives and experiences among the students as a means to increase the quality of education. Such conditions, in terms of diversity, worsened as the student population became less heterogeneous. Furthermore, the reduction of students from developing countries impeded the development aid goal of fighting poverty and assisting democratic development in the students’ countries of origin. The changes were also negative regarding the notion that incoming students within certain disciplines should be encouraged to remain in Sweden after graduation, in order to meet the demand for skilled labour.

On the other hand, after the fee introduction, HEIs may have been forced to make more of an effort in order to be internationally competitive, since it has clearly become more challenging to recruit third country students. Based on a logic of incentives, such pressure is a driver for increased quality. However, many of the disadvantages that Swedish HEIs face in international competition, such as the local language, climate, housing and labour market, lie outside the power of HEIs to change. The current tuition fee system does not formally leave much room for adjusting the price according to the status and attractiveness of particular programmes or courses. It is possible that high status institutions or programmes would stand to gain from charging higher fees, since price is sometimes perceived by students as an indication of quality.

A key result in the report is that the presence of students from the poorest countries, and those that Sweden has a long-term development cooperation with, could only be maintained thanks to scholarships from the Swedish Institute. In absolute terms, this group of students did not drop much more in numbers than the average of the group, i.e. with around four fifths. Without scholarships, however, only a tiny fraction of the incoming students would likely originate from these countries. This means that the power of Swedish authorities and scholarship organisations over the flows of students from the weakest economies has grown. In other words, the direct political influence on these flows has increased. The scholarship programme would probably have to be expanded at a pace equal to the increase in the number of incoming students, if the proportion of students from the poorest countries is to be maintained at the same level.

Another question concerns how we should understand the changes that the report documents. The increasing number of incoming students during the first decade of the 21st century could be interpreted in relation to the global development. Not only did the number of free-mover students increase globally, but on top of that, Sweden’s attractiveness to students was probably strengthened relative to other countries when several of them introduced tuition fees or increased already existing ones. Right before the fees were introduced in Sweden, knowledge of this change may also have, to some extent, increased the attractiveness of a Swedish education. The fact that the introduction of Swedish tuition fees was followed by such a large reduction in the number of third country students could simultaneously be seen as an indication that the majority of the Swedish HEIs could not compete as equals with the HEIs in the most market-oriented countries. To a large extent, this is probably due to the aforementioned factors that the Swedish HEIs cannot themselves change, such as the language spoken in the country. English speaking countries automatically have an advantage in the competition for international students.

Finally, it is clear that the internationalisation of higher education is an area where policy often has a very direct and significant impact on what takes place in the concerned institutions. The introduction of tuition fees has clearly affected which international students study in Sweden, and the composition of this group. Economic means of control are undoubtedly powerful in this area. It is, however, a complex question in what way such means are to be used to achieve specific goals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Elanders Sverige AB , 2019. , p. 103
Series
Delmi rapport ; 2019:4
Keywords [en]
International student mobility, Migration, Higher Education, Tuition Fees, Diversity, Educational Policy
Keywords [sv]
Internationell studentmobilitet, Migration, Högre utbildning, Studieavgifter, Mångfald, Utbildningspolitik
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
Sociology of Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-385709ISBN: 978-91-88021-39-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-385709DiVA, id: diva2:1325489
Available from: 2019-06-16 Created: 2019-06-16 Last updated: 2019-06-16

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Bryntesson, AndréBörjesson, Mikael

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